Baptists We Should Know: John Clarke, 1609–1676

Dr. Mark Rasmussen

Dr. John Clarke (1609–1676) was a leader in American political and religious history. In England he studied to become a doctor. Clarke was called a Puritan of the Puritans and dedicated himself to eliminating the king’s ability to direct the church.

Finding it impossible to keep the monarchy out of the church, Clarke decided to leave with his family and go to the New World. He arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1637. After arriving, he was stunned to find that there was a major controversy over the issue of antinomianism. Dr. John Clarke was discouraged by the heresies he thought were obviously evident, and he decided to plant another colony.

These men and women found in the Word of God their source for government and decided they would have a democracy based on their beliefs of the Word of God. This is the history behind the founding of Rhode Island.
While Clarke helped lead this colony, he was also the religious teacher of the church. After the church was founded the following year, Clarke became the pastor and primary teacher. Though the church members lived some distance from the church, they were often visited by their pastor, Dr. Clarke.

It is said that Clarke showed that the best safeguard of personal rights is Christian law. A number of people have called him the “Father of American Baptists.” Isaac Backus said, “He possessed the singular honor of contributing much towards establishing the first government upon the earth which gave equal liberty, civil and religious, to all men living under it.”